Kelly Nicholaides, The Record
RUTHERFORD — At a time when coming out is still a life-changing move, more lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender entrepreneurs are identifying their businesses as part of the LGBT community, as a matter of pride as well as economics.
About 100 LGBT people attended the New Jersey LGBT Chamber of Commerce networking breakfast at the Renaissance Hotel in Rutherford on Tuesday. The group meets at least once a month for meetings and social events held all over the state.
Ferlie Almonte is an image consultant through her business Resilient Life With Ferlie, while her wife, Christine Cipriano, helps people exceed in business through golf with her business Fit for the Tee. Both businesses fall under their combined LLC. The Garfield couple are seeking the chamber's help in getting a free national certification as an LGBT Business Enterprise. That certification through the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) will give them access to 160 Fortune 500 companies where some spending is dedicated to LBGT-owned businesses.
It [the chamber] brings us access to corporations so we can help build our business, and it validates us, in a way," Almonte explained. "We are accepted, celebrated, and together we will be elevated through these opportunities."
Luis Poveda, owner of Canvas & Grapes, a high-end paint and sip experience in Morristown and Edison, said he also wants to eventually get national certification as an LGBT Business Enterprise. "I want to be accounted for, to be recognized for our community," said Poveda.
Jonathan Lovitz, senior vice president of NGLCC, says the certification goes beyond pride and comes with vast economic connections. NGLCC's certified 1,000 LGBT-owned businesses have connections totaling 1.4 million businesses. Nationally, LGBT-owned businesses help pump $1.7 trillion into the economy annually, advocates say.
"We have companies in New York, Florida, Oregon and Texas looking for LGBT businesses, but this is not an LGBT issue. It's an economic issue. Everyone sees green. This is your shot. It's not a handout. It's fairness. We're not mailing you a wedding invitation. We want to be part of those RFPs [requests for proposals]," Lovitz said.
Ro Malik of Business Anatomy, a Millburn business that helps companies create cost-reduction strategies, was there not as a member of the LGBT community but to network.
"I'm a supporter of the LGBT community. As a minority business owner, I understand their voices need to be heard," said Malik.
Other supporters included representatives from State Theatre New Jersey, NY Waterway, and BCB bank.
New Jersey has been a leader in promoting civil rights and will continue to fight against inequality and discrimination, said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle who spent the morning with chamber members.
"LGBT communities continue to face barriers: Segregate before you integrate," Huttle said.